Sunday, August 12, 2012

Missouri, Belford, Oxford, Emerald, Iowa, Pecks -- Sawatch Six-Pack

Nick has already had a writeup for a week, but in any case, wanted to make sure there was interesting beta on a great route on the Sawatch.

The Missouri-Belford-Oxford trio of Sawatch 14ers is a fairly common combination of 14ers, with the peaks being relatively close together and often either done in a one-day push or by backpackers who enjoy a few days in the gorgeous Missouri Gulch. It's still a lot of vertical in terms of 14er hiking, especially considering the re-climb of Belford that is necessary to avoid significant bushwhacking, but all 3 mountains have accessible Class 2 trails.

Furthermore, for those who haven't set sight on these peaks, Gerry Roach's famous book points out that which is also suggested by topo maps: accessibility of other centennial 13er peaks, Emerald and Iowa. Thus, a 5-mountain combo, which charts at about 16.5 miles, also makes for a nice day. I've been intrigued by this route for a few summers, ever since reading it on the toilet or waiting for an appointment or wherever I typically scan Roach's book for a quick 5-10 minute glance, but there are only so many good alpine weekends and opportunities in a year.

Since some of us were headed up to Leadville for the weekend, and the weather was looking quite favourable, I pitched the idea to the Nick's (Pedatella and Clark), despite a plan to run 21 miles at night in Leadville; which, at a social pace and after a one-way shuttle, I claimed would be "free" miles that were not at risk of being un-run. Luckily, they were game for this plan.

Then I worried about pace, but there was usual talk of taking it easy, feeling a little slow, having run a 50k the previous weekend (them) or an atypically high number of miles during the week (me), etc. Everyone was kinda telling the truth, but I still dogged behind a bit...although I was the only one with a camera and taking pictures!

Anyway, we got started from Missouri Gulch just before 7am, and hit Missouri, Iowa, and Emerald first. Missouri was the most interesting of the 14ers, with more of a fun ridge than the other 2, while Emerald was the sexiest looking, in my opinion.

Next up was the only real route decision-making: heading over to Elkhead Pass. Roach's book basically suggested re-summiting Iowa. Pedatella and I discussed dropping all the way down the basin, by the lakes (I also thought about getting some water here), with the tradeoff of extra climb/descent being done at easier terrain at lower elevation. As it turned out, we just followed Clark on a direct, loose talus sidehilling slog. Other reports make note of this less-enjoyable route. It gets the job done -- and Clark was moving really well in that area -- but was certainly the least fun part of it. Coupled with running low on water later (nothing available up high), I might suggest considering the low route.

But we made it to Elkhead Pass, and soon were on our way up Belford. Without much haste, we bounced down the saddle and then up to Oxford, which had a couple of small false summits, but was otherwise a quick and straightforward scurry. Reversing our tracks, we were back up on Belford, still enjoying perfect weather. One more decision remained, but ended up unanimous, as we forewent the standard switchbacking descend down Belford in favour of "ascending" one more (named-but-uranked) peak, Peck's Peak, which is really a final bump on the North Ridge.
Besides the satisfaction of another peak, this gave us a fun extra mile ridge run, and we got to see some mountain goats we otherwise would have missed:

I poked around the farther end of the ridge a bit before descending straight down, whereas the other guys took off from the summit. Their terrain was more rocky tundra, whereas further down the ridge it was enough scree to ski a couple turns at a time (before being broken up by tufts of tundra). Other than filling up the shoes with rocks, it was more enjoyable of a descent than I anticipated.

Otherwise, my fixation was on water, as I ran out. I had only taken 2 bottles up (as had the others) as I had word that there was ample water in the gulch, but that was only in the lower parts where people were camped, so I had pushed it for the last hour, and I wanted to play with my Steripen anyway, which I had been carrying all day...and failed, again, with annoying blinking red lights. Ah well. So I wasted time doing that and finally met the other guys at the trailhead.

Anyway, it was a fun morning up high and certainly a classic route to consider to get your money's worth from the trailhead.


  1. Just an occasional FCTR here to say how glad I was to see your post on AK's blog about the S&R event on Mt. Olympus. I do not know AK and don't know the story other than what he wrote, so I tend to be shy to comment when not face to face. But my first thought was how his response contrasted with your response with Kami at WS. With family members on the Boulder S&R team, I am a fan of folks with the gift to move quickly and efficiently over mountainous terrain willing to help others out when in need. Can you imagine how relieved the hiker must have felt to see someone else? If you have called in a rescue, you have to be pretty desperate/scared/fearful. I found myself embarrassed as a runner reading the story, and quite frankly, all the more proud to see someone more prominent (you) in the UR community be willing to speak up. Thanks.

  2. Thanks much Travis, I really appreciate the comments. Ha, I'm not prominent by any means other than having a little Blog to share, but otherwise you summed up /exactly/ what I was thinking. I struggled with what to say, would prefer face-to-face, and definitely don't believe in Anon comments but I wanted to say something about that specific incident, because, as far as "prominence" and group-think, I was surprised that most reactions are still about shoe and gear choices than sympathetic curiosity (the original writeup didn't mention the final conclusion of Scott's safety, until someone else asked).

  3. favourable?? Guess you have been hanging out with Clark to much!